Special counsel Patrick Sims elaborated on his investigation into the working conditions within the city’s public works department this afternoon during a council committee meeting.
Sims presented councilors with a proposed scope of work during a meeting of the council’s investigation committee. The committee moved its deadline to end the investigation from Dec. 15 to the end of the year, on Sims’ suggestion.
Sims told councilors he would work with council attorney Wanda Cochran to identify parties to begin interviews and would work through interviews with as many of the 26 current, full-time trash department employees as necessary. He would then interview the five supervisors and anyone else before releasing a report.
Sims, a former magistrate judge who has experience in labor law, will determine whether the complaints of mistreatment from a number of trash department employees is “routine bellyaching,” or “mistreatment in an unusual sense.” He told councilors if he does find evidence supporting those claims, he will determine who is doing the mistreating and the reason why it is happening.
The report he releases should be able to tell councilors if the alleged mistreatment is racially based, like a number of employees claim, or if it’s workplace pressure, or other factors at play. Sims will not make a recommendation in the report. That will be up to the committee and the larger council body.
Councilman Fred Richardson asked Sims to replace the word “race” in his scope of work document to the word “ethnicity.”
“Race is just skin color,” Richardson said. “All of us are in the same race; the human race. Ethnicity has to do with where your ancestors are from. We all came from somewhere.”
Richardson also asked Sims to find out why public works employees haven’t yet received 5 percent raises passed in the city’s 2019 fiscal year budget.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson has already announced he is replacing the raises with an incentive package for those employees. With the incentives, an employee can earn more than a 5 percent pay bump, but unlike the raises, the incentives are not across the board.
The District 1 representative also wants Sims to investigate whether the administration has asked for additional employees through the personnel board because workers in the department have been short staffed for some time.
“I like your outline here,” Richardson said. “By following this outline, I feel you’ll get to the bottom of what it is.”
Other councilors supported the outline, as well. Council Vice President Levon Manzie said the outline is similar to what he expected.
“We have heard for a while now a wide array of allegations and issues and I think it would be most helpful to go down this path as you’ve outlined here to get a report from an unconnected and unbiased source,” he said.
Manzie also encouraged Sims to interview all 26 employees within the department.
The administration, represented by city attorney Ricardo Woods, promised Sims access to the public works department headquarters on Gayle Street “to talk to [interim public works director] Mr. [John] Peavy and staff.”
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